TLO 15: How to Teach Online: Review and Wrap-Up: Part 1

As this is the penultimate TLO blog in this 16-part series, I asked some of the readers and responders what they thought would be the most useful way to wrap things up. Many of the readers said that, as we’ve covered a lot of material over the last 8 months or so, it would be helpful to do a review of some of the main points we’ve considered and discussed.

We started back in August 2013 with a couple of lines from two of Tara Arntsen’s “Technology in Education” TESOL blogs: “Learning online is still learning” and: “Teaching online is both completely different and absolutely the same as teaching in a classroom.” These are two points worth returning to, as there are more similarities between traditional, face-to-face, bricks-and-mortar classrooms and online teaching and learning environments than might at first appear.

As we discussed in TLO 7, the purveyors and promoters of new technologies tend to claim that such technologies will revolutionize the way we do something. In my experience, the capabilities of the technology generally lag many years behind the expectations created of what it can do. The Internet was supposed to revolutionize education, but 20 years after the Internet went global, the majority of teaching and learning in the world today still takes place in traditional, face-to-face, bricks-and-mortar classrooms. Similarly overblown claims can now be found about how social media is going to be the next big thing to revolutionize language teaching and learning. Maybe. But probably not.

This is not to say that the Internet has made no difference to education. It clearly has greatly increased the potential access to education by enabling teachers and students around the world to connect, interact, and learn from each other in ways that were impossible before. But one of the recurring themes that has emerged in these TLO blogs is that the fundamentals of what it means to be a “good” teacher and a “good” learner have not changed dramatically as a result of the new technologies. As we noted in TLO 2, the pedagogy should always come first, with the technology employed as a tool that enables.

For me, one of the biggest impacts of TLO has not been pedagogical or methodological, but relational. As we saw in TLO 3, teaching and learning in online environments alters the relationship between the teacher and the learners, making all of the learners potential teachers and requiring the teacher to do as much learning as the students. Sometimes the teacher-learning is related to updating content knowledge of the material being presented. But often the teacher needs to learn how to do in virtual spaces what s/he did in physical, face-to-face classrooms. This theme was picked up in TLO 4, on the ways in which the technology can enable the “collaborative, cooperative, co-construction of knowledge, skills and understanding”—and can move us away from the “transmission model” that Mark Twain made fun of!

In TLO 5, I stated that TLO may not be for everyone, and may not be suitable for those who lack the necessary self-discipline and self-management skills, for whom traditional bricks-and-mortar, face-to-face classrooms and courses may be much better. This seems like an obvious statement to make, especially given the fact that we long ago rejected the notion that “one size fits all” when it comes to teaching and learning. But fierce competition for the potential financial gains in the multi-billion dollar online education industry has made many institutions reluctant to say this clearly and openly.

TLO 8 came from the TESOL Symposium in Guangzhou, where the point was made that, as a result of the current world population facts and figures, “every other person in the world is now in China, in India or in Africa.” We did, therefore, look at what is happening in TLO in those three parts of the world, as those developments will shape what happens in TLO in the rest of the world.

Having laid the groundwork in the first eight TLO blogs, the remaining blogs—the main points of which I’ll present in the next and final TLO blog—focused on practical aspects of how to teach online.

About Andy Curtis

Andy Curtis
Andy received his MA in Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching, and his PhD in International Education, both from the University of York in England, and he teaches TESOL courses online with the School of Graduate Education at Anaheim University, California. Over the years, he has written for TESOL Quarterly, TESOL Journal, TESOL Matters, and TESOL’s Essential Teacher. Andy will be installed as president-elect of the TESOL International Association in Portland, Oregon in 2014, and he will be president during TESOL’s 50th Anniversary Convention in Baltimore, Maryland in 2016.
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